Will Someone Tell The General That Kashmir Is Not His To Sell?
4 April 2004
The Indian Express
New Delhi: It was too good to be true. There was the Indian cricket team winning spectacularly, time after time, and there were all those tales of love and friendship pouring in from Indians who went to Lahore to see the matches. Tales of shopkeepers refusing to let Indians pay for their shopping because 'you are our guests' and taxi- drivers offering free transport for the same reason. Tales from the stadium of Indians and Pakistanis tying their flags together in remarkable gestures of friendship and of Pakistanis cheering for India instead of spitting venom as is usually the case. And, from Lahore's drawing-rooms, rapturous stories of how visiting Indian celebrities were treated with the sort of awe and wonder they could never dream of at home. From the moment I started hearing these stories I have been wondering, with a sense of foreboding, when General Pervez Musharraf would say or do something to poison the air. You see, I have seen it all before. I was not in Lahore this time but was there in February of 1999 when Atal Behari Vajpayee in that extraordinarily spontaneous gesture of goodwill drove across the border in that bus. I was among a small army of Indian journalists waiting on the other side of the border. We had flown in the day before to witness history being made but history in the making can be a tedious business. We waited in a barricaded pen for hours in the sun getting increasingly bored with watching Pakistani bands practice their tunes and I was beginning to think it was all going to end in the usual, shoddy anti-climax when suddenly the Pakistani Prime Minister appeared and headed for the gate that closes off Pakistan from India. Then followed a long sequence of anticipation and delay with no sign of the bus and jokes among us about it probably having broken down on the way. Would that not be a perfect symbol of Indo-Pakistani relations? And then in the most stylish gesture I have ever seen an Indian government make, across the border came liveried staff bearing an enormous basket of sweets and behind them Punjabi women in silk skirts dancing across into Pakistan. And, then the Prime Minister in his bus of dull gold with the flags of both countries painted on it. When the two Prime Ministers embraced and Pakistani troops played the Indian national anthem even the biggest cynics among us were ready to believe that something had changed forever. By the time our Prime Minister made his wonderfully moving speech in the Punjab Governor's garden the next day and eminent Pakistanis came up to his daughter, afterwards, and said with tears in their eyes that they had never heard a finer speech, I was convinced that we were well into a new chapter in the history of the sub-continent. We were, but nobody knew then that it would be called Kargil and that the man who would write it would ensure for at least three years afterwards that peace would not be mentioned even as a footnote. And, now again just as there was beginning to be talk about that definitive moment arriving when some Indian or Pakistani leader could say let us take the wall down for good we have General Musharraf remind us once more of Kashmir. 'We have to move forward on Kashmir. We have to resolve it,' he told PTV last week, 'otherwise I am not responsible, I said that. I think everyone is clear, including the Indian leadership. Now more than that I have done my duty. Let us see what happens. Let us pray to God. If we do not move forward, I am not in the process. They know that. I told everyone absolutely unambiguously that if you think that I am here to sell Kashmir, you are talking to the wrong man.' Will someone tell the General that Kashmir is not his to sell? That it never was his to sell? Will someone tell Colin Powell that it does not help when he travels from Delhi to Islamabad and only then announces that Pakistan is going to be America's most special non- NATO ally? Is this Pakistan's reward for its terrifying commerce in nuclear technology? What is the point in asking these questions, though, when surely the American state department must know what it's doing when it chooses as its most special ally the one country, other than Saudi Arabia, that has been most responsible for using jehad as an instrument of foreign policy. The consequence for us is that Pakistan's military dictator appears no longer to be in the mood for peace. He would probably not have been in the mood for peace ever if 9-11 had not happened but that is another story. What we need to do is to continue walking along the road that the cricket matches have opened. It is ordinary people on both sides of the border who will eventually ensure peace on the sub-continent and not political leaders or Generals. So we should make it increasingly easy for singers, dancers, poets, musicians, traders, journalists and ordinary people to travel across the border without waiting for reciprocity and no matter what Musharraf says about Kashmir. Every time I write this I get abusive letters from Hindu fanatics who, as we know, have more influence than they should. But, listening to fanatics on either side will take us back to where we were after Kargil. A new chapter has begun to open and neither India nor Pakistan can afford to let it close.